Interview | God's Own Country stars talk fronting the biggest British gay film of the year
This article first appeared in Attitude issue 287, September 2017.God’s Own Country, a gay drama film about two sheep farmers, has fast become one of the LGBT movie moments of the year, with critics overwhelmingly praising the film’s gripping acting and Francis Lee’s stunning direction.
The Yorkshire-set drama stars Josh O’Connor as Johnny, a young farmer struggling to carry the weight of his family’s business and who frequently turns to booze and casual sex to cope.
When his father hires Romanian worker Gheorghe (played by Alec Secareanu) to help out during the lambing season, Johnny is immediately hostile towards him, but an intense relationship soon develops
Attitude sat down with the film’s stars O'Connor and Secareanu for our recent September issue to talk the film, the natural comparisons to Ang Lee's 2005 classic Brokeback Mountain, and just what happened up those windy moors during filming...
You’re an unknown name in the UK. How did Francis end up casting you?
I found out from a Romanian casting director that he was looking for Romanian actors. It was quite a long process. First, I sent a tape then Francis came to Bucharest and after that I went to London to do a chemistry test with Josh because he had already been cast. I was very nervous. It was my first casting outside my country and to fly all the way to London and spend one night there for an audition was quite intense for me. But obviously it went very well.
Gheorghe exudes a sense of calm and wisdom and you give a very subtle performance. What did you draw on for the role?
We talked a lot about the character even before we met in London to start shooting. After Francis told me that I’d got the part, we started working on the character’s background, his biography, where he was born, his family, his relatives, how he ended up in the UK and what kind of jobs he had before working on Johnny’s farm. I think Gheorghe’s very carefully considered and he feels closely connected to nature.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the farming scenes?
Before we started shooting we had two weeks of rehearsals and in that time we worked on separate farms. I worked on a farm owned by Francis’ father. We had a farmer’s schedule so we woke up every morning at about 5am and worked all day, then did rehearsals before going back to sleep. I trained with Francis’ father who taught me how to skin a lamb. It was pretty intense.
When Gheorghe comes along, your character is clearly in a bad place in his life. Do you think his arrival is Johnny’s chance at redemption?
Yeah, I think it’s partly about redemption. Prior to Gheorghe’s coming into not just Johnny’s life, but also the family’s life, Johnny is this closed off, emotionally unavailable character who’s unable to be vulnerable. I feel redemption is kind of the right word, because of course he doesn’t recognise it with Gheorghe at first. But in time it’s more about how Gheorghe opens his world and makes him act, makes him change and become emotionally available.
What are you most proud about in this film?
I’ve done a fair few films now, and some TV and theatre. But I don’t think I’ve ever played a character so far removed from myself. First of all, the accent. I’m southern! Everything from his mannerisms and the way he arches over, the way he deals with relationships emotionally is totally different. His family life is totally different from mine. That was such a challenge, and I love the fact that when we were in Berlin for Sundance, people were kind of shocked to see me smiling in the Q&As afterwards. They were like: “Oh my God, this kid smiles.”
What do you hope the film will mean for you in the future?
This is the kind of film that I would want to see. I want to continue making films that require a transformation, that fascinate me. And as for this film, I just hope people get to see it because I think it’s relevant to everyone of all ages, of all genders and sexualities. It covers so much and we can all relate to it, I hope.
You can catch God's Own Country in cinemas now. Read our review here.
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